Oh for goodness’ sake. And there we were, thinking it couldn’t get any worse.
On Friday we awoke to good news for the first time this series, but we should have known it was too good to last. Immediately, abruptly, we were plunged into another nightmare start to a day – waking up to find the score is so much worse than even our most pessimistic predictions.
We knew that our strong overnight position could quickly unravel. But then again, we thought – we are due some runs. Several of our batsmen are overdue a proper innings. For the first time, they were due to bat under only mild pressure, and with our side in control of the game. Things would be different this time, wouldn’t they? The answer was no – save in the respect that they were even worse than before.
Even after all we’ve been through during this tour, as supporters, the catastrophic double- implosion of our innings is a real kick in the face. How on earth did it happen? The factors which undermined us in the three previous tests weren’t really in play. Our batting just disintegrated for no apparent reason whatsoever, leaving bloody Nathan Lyon with a non-turning five-fer.
What a dreadful shame, and what a dreadful waste. Our very real chance of winning the test match, and avoiding the whitewash, has been completely squandered. If only we could have mustered another 60 or 70 runs. Remember, at one point we were 86-1, and then 173-5. And yet we were still bowled out for 179. The fact that even after that shambles we still left Australia a significant target only underlines what could have been.
Time and again over the last few weeks, I have written something along the lines of ‘today was even worse than what’s happened before’. But somehow, it carries on getting even worse and worse – redefining impossibly severe new parameters for the entire cricketing concept of ‘worse’. Because today was the darkest day of all – until the next one.
As the start of today’s play approached, we were nervous about the fact that Australia were still only nine wickets down. This last year has taught us that the last four Australian wickets usually matter far more than the first four, especially when Brad Haddin is still in. Bloody Haddin, I mean, what a absolute pain in the arse he’s been. In all four matches of this series we have done well against their top order in the first innings, and all four times, Haddin has ruined it for us.
Even so, what actually happened in the first hour of play was so clichedly predictable that even we supporters wrote it off beforehand as too far-fetched. It won’t really happen again, will it? OK, maybe they’ll score another ten runs, but surely Lyon’s not up to much with the bat.
None of us had really budgeted for them making another forty. Forty! Our last five wickets, by contrast, went for only six runs.
I’m usually fairly loath to put the boot into our players unless I have to, but one area in which I ran out of patience years ago is our approach to closing out the tail. We’ve been dreadful at it for years, even during the good times, and there were several occasions in the 2010/11 series when we almost let Australia back into a match, and in fact did so at Perth. What’s hugely frustrating is that Cook, Broad and Anderson seem to have learned nothing from any of those debacles, including the farce at Trent Bridge last July when Ashton Agar flayed us around.
Why can’t they just set conventional fields and bowl normally, aiming for the top of fourth stump? Instead, they brainlessly and pointlessly insist on banging in it short, time and again, with ludicrously predictable results. I have sympathy for our players for much of what’s gone wrong on this trip, but when it comes their approach to the tail, I have none whatsoever.
Nor is my attitude to the Australian players softening after another day of their graceless and ugly behaviour. Yet again, most of them spent the day snarling and cursing – especially Warner and Johnson – as if they’re still nursing an almighty chip on their shoulders. Johnson’s contretemps with Pietersen was beyond excuse or redemption. Let’s be plain: Johnson is a nasty piece of work and I loathe the very sight of him – from his atrocious moustache to his vulgar armful of tattoos. His career has been a pathetic joke until this series gave him a consolation prize, and yet he struts around like the reincarnation of Malcolm Marshall.
Australia’s continued bitterness, rancour and acrimony is impossible to explain or justify. They have already won the series, for heaven’s sake, but still act as if the victims of a terrible injustice. Even Brad Haddin, one of the less obnoxious members of the cast, got into the act today, mouthing off to Joe Root after the latter’s caught-behind dismissal was overturned on DRS. The review showed very plainly that Root didn’t hit it – there was no noise, no deviation, and nothing on either Hotspot or Snicko. Rather than just accept the umpire’s decision, Siddle began moaning to the field umpires, and the crowd (almost certainly aiming at Root) booed and cursed.
Australia have the Ashes and are about to go four-nil up. What exactly is their problem?